Innovation isn’t about ideas

A beaver and a rabbit were sitting close to the Hoover Dam, admiring it.

The rabbit asked the beaver, “Did you build that?”

The beaver replied, “No, but it’s based on an idea I had.”

A couple of days ago, I wrote about how using shipping containers instead of manually loading cargo in ships brought the cost of shipping down by a factor of 36 (from $5.86 per ton to just 16 cents per ton).

One might think that this brilliant idea would have been enough to make containerization standard practice across the world. Sadly, innovation is never that easy. Its inventor, Malcom McLean, had to fight several difficult battles before that happened.

in 1958, McLean sent two of his new ships from Newark, USA to Puerto Rico, where the longshoremen’s union refused to unload them, sitting idle for four months and costing him a fortune. Another dockers’ strike in 1959 brought McLean to the brink of bankruptcy. Then, there was the problem with standardization. It took more than 10 long years for the industry to settle on 20-foot and 40-foot standard container lengths.

It took one good idea, a lot of elbow grease and decades of patient work to make shipping containers the standard means for transporting cargo around the world.

Innovation isn’t about having great ideas. It is more about taking an idea and putting the difficult work necessary to realize the idea.

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